Following the explosiveness of the first nine plagues, we come now to a very short chapter that serves as an interlude before the tenth and final plague is poured out upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Here Moses concludes his dialogue with Pharaoh for good, promising a great wail of death throughout Egypt to come. As we study this chapter (moving somewhat backwards), we will focus upon three main themes: the purpose of the plagues, God’s curse upon the Egyptians, and God’s blessing upon the Israelites.
THE PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES // VERSES 9-10
Let us begin with how this chapter concludes, which should be quite familiar to us by now:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.”
Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.
Specifically, these two verses are repeating the words that God spoke to Moses before the prelude sign of the staff becoming a serpent was worked before Pharaoh (see 7:3-4). Thus, these two passages form a sort of bookend on these first ten signs that the LORD displayed to Pharaoh, and they build up the tension for the final plague.
This is also a great place for us to conclude by reflecting upon the purpose of the plagues that God brought upon Egypt. The ultimate reason is suggested in verse 9: that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. God worked the wonders of the plagues so that His glory would be displayed throughout the land of Egypt. Again, God’s glory is the radiance of His nature and character, the visible display of who He is. Thus, the purpose of the plagues was to show both the Israelites and the Egyptians that the LORD is God and there is none like Him.
Indeed, consider the reasons that God has given for all of the signs in the book of Exodus so far:
Exodus 4:5 | that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.
Exodus 7:3–5 | But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.
Exodus 7:17 | Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.”
Exodus 8:22–23 | But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.
Exodus 9:14–16 | For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
Exodus 10:1–2 | Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.”
Notice the pattern: God did these signs in the land of Egypt as a revelation of Himself, to display His glory. Pharaoh’s ever-hardening heart, His judgment upon the Egyptians, and the blessing of the Israelites throughout these plagues were all about the LORD making Himself known to the all the earth, both in that generation and beyond.
DEATH COMES TO EGYPT // VERSES 1, 4-8
Our text begins with the LORD speaking again to Moses, saying, Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely. As we said of verse 1 in chapter 6, the LORD still has not directly told Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave Egypt permanently; instead, the demand has only been to let them go a three-day’s journey into the wilderness to worship Him. To emphasize the utter hardness of Pharaoh’s heart, the Egyptian king did not yield to this demand even after nine plagues that left Egypt in ruins. God, however, was determined not only to break the king’s stubbornness but would actually use him to send the Israelites out of Egypt entirely.
But how could the LORD so thoroughly change Pharaoh’s mind when he was so blind to the message of the first nine plagues? He would do so with a final plague that would make the others seem like child’s play in comparison. Verses 4-6 record the warning that Moses gave to Pharaoh:
So Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.
We might first rightly ask how Moses was able to give this warning to Pharaoh after the conclusion of the ninth plague. While we could easily envision Pharaoh going back on his word, the fact that Moses agreed to never see Pharaoh’s face again means that this declaration to Pharaoh likely immediately followed that dialogue at the end of chapter 10. Indeed, we can easily imagine Moses preparing to walk away as he said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.” But before he left the palace, the LORD gave the prophet one last word to speak to the king of Egypt. And what a word it was!
First, the LORD promised to bring death upon the land of Egypt. But this would not be random and indiscriminate death. No, it was going to be a precise, targeted death that fell upon all firstborns in Egypt, from Pharaoh’s own crown prince to the poorest slave girl and even to the cattle. The specificity of this plague would leave no doubt that the LORD Himself had worked this plague.
Also, since the Egyptians were obsessed with death, this was a very fitting climax to the signs and wonders that God performed. Indeed, Ryken notes how this plague also humiliated Egypt’s gods:
The god of the dead was Osiris, whose name meant “the Mighty One; he who has sovereign power.” His assistant was Anubis, the god of the underworld. Anubis supervised the embalming process and guided the dead during their passage to the afterlife. He came in canine form, which incidentally may partly explain the reference to dogs in verse 7a: “But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast.” The Israelites would remain untouched by death, thus proving that Anubis held no power over them. Meanwhile, the death of Egypt’s sons would prove that Israel’s God was the Lord of life and death.
Ryken goes on to note the particular importance of the death of Pharaoh’s son, who was to become Pharaoh himself after his father’s death. As we have said, the Egyptian Pharaohs were thought to be the son of Ra and of Osiris. Thus, the LORD was striking down the future “deity” as the most pointed display yet of Pharaoh’s impotence. Of course, this also fulfills what God promised back in verses 22-23 of chapter 4, where God called Israel His firstborn son and said, “if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.”
As we think upon the severity of the tenth plague, we might begin to question why God brought this death upon all of Egypt. Pharaoh was certainly guilty. That much is abundantly clear! We could also understand God’s justice falling upon the Egyptian officials who worked the Israelites so hard. We can also see the guilt of regular Egyptians who profited from the slavery of the Israelites, happily benefiting from their plight. But what about the poorest Egyptian slaves? Surely many of them were treated just as badly, if not worse, than the Israelites. Why did they too deserve this death?
Let us remind ourselves that Paul was serious when it wrote both of these well-known statements from the book of Romans: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin really does lead to death. It is the reason that death came into the world at all, meaning that each of us will die because of sin, but it also brings the second death to all who refuse to call upon the name of the LORD. The question, therefore, is not why God would bring death upon all the firstborn in the land of Egypt but why did He stop at only the firstborn when all of Egypt deserved death! The reality is that God was using the Egyptians to display to the world the very real, very deadly consequences of sin.
Of course, God did not slay all of the Egyptians because, as Isaiah and many of the other prophets predicted, Egypt would one day be called by the LORD “my people” (Isaiah 19:25). His desire was not to cut off Egypt from the earth but to ultimately bring the Egyptians into the folds of His people, which we can see today being fulfilled in our Egyptian brothers and sisters in Christ.
Furthermore, as the next chapter will make very clear, God only kept this plague of death from striking the Israelites through the lamb’s blood upon the doors of their homes. The distinction between Israel and Egypt did not come from Israel’s superior morality. This distinction was rooted in God’s atoning for the sins of the Israelites. We too are saved from the fires of the second death only because of the atonement of our sins through the work of Jesus. No hound of hell shall so much as growl at us not because of our goodness but in spite of our wickedness. We will be preserved only because of the righteous of Jesus that has been imputed to us.
We should also take note just how brutal Moses’ final words to Pharaoh in verse 8 are: And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.” After presumably months of declaring God’s command to let Israel go, Moses foretold a very significant reversal. The prophet essentially told Pharaoh: “The Israelites and I will not leave until your own servants have bowed before me and begged us to go.” What a reversal! From “let us go” to “we won’t go until…”! As God’s representation to Pharaoh, Moses was displaying the monumental gap between the two men.
FULL-HANDED REDEMPTION // VERSES 2-3
Now that we have observed the LORD’s promise of the final plague of death, let us return to what God said regarding the people of Israel in verses 2-3:
“Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.” And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.
We have already seen the distinction that God made between Israel and Egypt by shielding Israel from the any harm or threat while He brought death upon the Egyptians. However, this distinction would not be simply one of protection versus destruction; the LORD was also going to actively bless Israel through plundering Egypt. Of course, as nearly everything that we are presently reading, this was declared by God to Moses earlier in the book. Verses 21-22 of chapter 3 told us:
And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.
This was certainly adding insult to injury. Through the previous plagues, God had left the land of Egypt in ruins. He struck their cattle, their crops, and their health, doing everything short of wiping Egypt off the map entirely. Yet the LORD notably did not strike their wealth, and the Egyptians certainly had wealth. As the most powerful kingdom in the world, the neighboring kingdoms paid tribute to Egypt for the simple privilege of not being attacked. Talk about passive income!
Indeed, knowing that the Egyptians could buy or just take food from surrounding kingdoms likely fueled Pharaoh’s continued hardness of heart. Yet the Egyptians were also going to lose their gold and silver not through a plague but through simply handing it over to the Israelites in the prayer that they would leave Egypt and never return. Ryken gives a quick survey of what many commentators have suggested was the importance of this plundering of Egypt:
Scholars have also tried to explain what the silver and gold represent. Some say they were Israel’s wages. God wanted to make sure that his people got paid for all the work they did in Egypt. Others say it was the price of redemption, which was always required for release from slavery. Still others consider it a form of military tribute, which God made the Egyptians pay their conquerors.
As a sidenote, I believe that all three of those suggestions are possible, and as is often the case in biblical literature, I see no reason why the gold and silver could not be invoking each at the same time. However, Ryken continues by noting the primary purpose of this transfer of wealth:
In any case, the silver and gold were a sign of divine favor. It would have been enough to escape from Egypt in one piece, but in his mercy God arranged to provide his people with what they needed for their journey (although, as we shall see, the plunder turned out to be a mixed blessing!). God often does this. In addition to spiritual salvation, he gives his people material blessings that go far beyond what they need or even ask.
This is still true today. Of course, regardless of what proponents of the prosperity gospel claim, God does not promise material prosperity for His people. Indeed, many texts of Scripture specifically warn of the spiritual danger that wealth can bring, although few are as explicit as 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Even so, it still very much true that God blesses His people beyond measure whenever He saves them. When it comes from our salvation from the death of sin, to be spared the eternal fires of hell would be mercy beyond measure. The LORD could have rescued from consequences of our sins, let us live unpunished for all eternity, and He would still be deserving of our eternal praise.
However, God did so much more through the work of Christ. Like the Egyptians, we have not been simply liberated from our slavery to sin; instead, we have now been blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)!
What are these spiritual blessings that we have received? From Ephesians alone, we are chosen in Christ (1:4), adopted as sons (1:5), redeemed by His blood (1:7), made to know the mystery of God’s will (1:9), given an eternal inheritance in Him as sealed by the Holy Spirit (1:11, 14), given the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation (1:17), given enlightened hearts (1:18), seated with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6), grafted into the commonwealth of Israel (2:12), united together with all who are in Christ (2:15), and made into living, breathing temples of God (2:21).
All these are but a few of the myriad of the descriptions that the Bible gives for our blessings in Christ, but the core of each divine blessing comes down to this reality: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 6:7). God Himself is the blessing, the pearl of great price that He gives to His people. This is why when the new heaven and new earth are brought forth we will hear a voice from heaven declaring: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). To put it another way, God is everything heavenly about Heaven.
Moses understood this truth. After the forming and worshiping of the golden calf, Moses interceded on behalf of the people of Israel, begging the LORD to withhold His wrath. And He did. Yet God then told Moses to lead His people into the Promise Land. God would keep His covenant to the patriarchs by giving them Canaan, but the LORD would not go with them. Instead, He would send an angel before them to drive out the Canaanites. This was one of the most crucial moments of redemptive history, for Moses and the Israelites could have taken God’s deliverance from slavery and material blessings without the presence of God being among them. Moses’ prayer reveals his understanding that God Himself is the blessing and treasure of His people:
For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”Exodus 33:16
Moses did not simply want the things that God could give; he wanted God. His utmost desire was the same as David’s, to “dwell in the house of the LORD forevermore” (Psalm 23:6).
It is no wonder then that God exalted Moses in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of all the Egyptians. As we noted last week, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Although Pharaoh continued to exalt himself above the LORD, God made the king of Egypt into a joke in the sight of his people before finally swallowing him down into the deep. Moses, however, gave himself to being God’s servant. In humbling himself, the LORD exalted Moses above Pharaoh.
Again, this principle is still true today. While Christ has warned us of the affliction that will come from walking as His disciples, He also promises exaltation that is to come. Consider His words in Matthew 5:11-12:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Just as humiliation preceded His exaltation, so too are we called to humble ourselves before God and endure whatever affliction we may receive as His people, knowing that our reward is great in heaven. Spurgeon was right in saying, “As there is a curse wrapped up in the wicked man’s mercies, so there is a blessing concealed in the righteous man’s crosses, losses, and sorrows.” Every cross, loss, or sorrow that we endure in this life will one day be swallowed up as we walk into the light of the glory of God forevermore.
 Ryken, Exodus, 291-292.
 Ryken, Exodus, 292.